A year since Italy went into its first nationwide lockdown, the country’s statistics office Istat has released new figures revealing some of the measurable effects the coronavirus emergency has had on quality of life.
Istat’s annual BES Report measures “equitable and sustainable well-being in Italy”, using a wide range of indicators across health, employment, education and personal satisfaction.
The latest edition shows just how much things changed in 2020, as these key statistics demonstrate.
- Life expectancy has fallen by nearly a year.
For many years Italy has boasted one of the longest life expectancies in Europe. But with the spread of the coronavirus, its ageing population was especially vulnerable to falling sick.
Italy’s more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 mainly affected the elderly, with the result that Italy’s national average life expectancy dropped from 83.2 years in 2019 to 82.3 in 2020.
The effect was particularly pronounced in the north, where most of Italy’s Covid deaths have been recorded: life expectancy there, the highest in Italy to begin with, fell from 83.6 years to 82.1. In the region of Lombardy alone, nearly two and a half years were cut off the average lifetime, shortening it from 83.7 years to 81.2.
According to Istat, the pandemic has wiped out many of the gains made year-on-year since 2010, when Italy’s average life expectancy was 81.7.
- People in Italy are less sedentary, but more are overweight.
The proportion of people in Italy who don’t do any physical activity fell from 35.5 percent in 2019 to 33.8 percent in 2020, which Istat attributes partly to the fact that many people took up exercise to pass the time during Italy’s first lockdown last spring.
But all the extra hours spent at home, combined with increased food and alcohol intake for many, also contributed to a slight rise in obesity: 45.5 percent of adults in Italy were overweight in 2020 compared to 44.9 percent in 2019.
- Women and older people are in worse mental health.
While younger adults overall reported that their mental well-being stayed roughly the same or even improved between 2019 and 2020, people over 75 – who were in poorer mental health to begin with – said theirs had worsened.
The effect was particularly pronounced in the north of Italy, where residents spent longest under lockdown, as well as among women of all age groups.
In fact women aged 20-24 reported one of the biggest drops in mental well-being, followed by women aged 25-34 and 65-74 – which may reflect the fact that women have accounted for most of Italy’s job losses in the pandemic, as well as taking over most of the extra childcare duties.
- Unemployment has risen, especially among women and young people.
Employment among 20 to 64-year-olds fell from 64 percent in 2019 to 62 percent in 2020, reflecting hundreds of thousands of job losses and interrupting five years of continuous improvement.
That has widened the distance between Italy and the rest of the European Union, where even despite the pandemic average employment rate stood at 71.6 percent in 2020.
Women in Italy have been hit hardest: female employment fell by 2.3 percentage points to 52.1 percent, resulting in a gap of nearly 20 percent between women’s employment and men’s. That’s close to double the average EU gender gap of around 11 percent.
At the same time, the percentage of people aged 15-29 not in education, employment or training rose to 23.9 percent in the second half of 2020, compared to 21.2 percent a year earlier.
- More families say they’re worse off.
Unsurprisingly, more households reported that their financial situation had worsened in the past 12 months: 28.8 percent in 2020 compared to 25.8 percent in 2019.
And more than 5.6 million people – 9.4 percent of everyone in Italy – were estimated to be in absolute poverty in 2020, up from 7.7 percent in 2019 and the highest level since records began 15 years ago.
The poverty rate increased fastest in Italy’s wealthier north, where it jumped from 6.8 percent in 2019 to 9.4 percent in 2020.
- More people are working from home.
Italy began 2020 with one of the lowest rates of remote working of any country in the EU (less than 5 percent of the workforce).
By the second half of the year, more than 19 percent of workers were working from home at least one day a week, with the rate rising as high as 60 percent among people working in IT, communications or teaching.
That may be one of the reasons that work satisfaction is up, despite all the instability: 55.7 percent of workers said they were satisfied with their job in the second half of 2020, compared to 53.9 percent in 2019 (though self-employed people reported being notably less satisfied than employees).
- More people are using the internet.
In 2019 in Italy, where internet uptake has been notoriously slow, 66.7 percent of people over 11 used the internet at least once a week. In 2020 the figure rose to 69.2 percent, the highest increase of the past seven years.
While the vast majority of children and young adults were already using it regularly, the biggest change in habits has been among people in their 60s and early 70s.
The number of households with internet access also rose, from 76.1 percent to 79.6 percent.
- At least 8 percent of pupils didn’t keep up with distance learning.
According to Istat’s survey of state and private schools in Italy, at least 8 percent of students did not participate in video lessons and other forms of remote learning in the 2019/20 school year.
For students with disabilities, the percentage was even higher: 23 percent may have been left behind.
- People are reading more.
Some 23.7 percent of people read at least four books in 2020, up from 22.3 in 2019.
The percentage of people who read the news at least three times a week also rose slightly, from 25.2 to 25.5 percent.
That could be because people spent less time working or studying, not necessarily by choice, as schools and businesses closed: 69.4 percent of people over 14 said they had enough free time in 2020, up from 68 percent in 2019.
Or it could be that there’s not much else to do. Aside from bars and restaurants closing and social gatherings being discouraged, other venues like cinemas, theatres and museums were closed for most of 2020 – with the result that the percentage of children and adults participating in cultural activities outside their own home dropped from 35.1 percent in 2019 to 30.8 percent in 2020.
- People are more engaged in politics.
After declining for most of a decade, political and civic engagement reversed the trend and actually increased in 2020, rising from 57.9 percent in 2019 to 62.5 percent last year.
Amid the pandemic 56.4 percent of people over 14 said they followed politics (+3.7 percent from 2019), 36 percent said they discussed it (+3.1 percent), and 15 percent shared they shared their views about it online (+4.9 percent).
Meanwhile the percentage of people donating to charity climbed from 13.4 to 14.8 percent, as people contributed to efforts to support those in need.
- People have lower expectations for the future.
Since 2016, people in Italy have generally reported feeling optimistic about the future: the percentage of people over 14 who said they expected their situation to improve over the next five years has risen steadily each year, reaching 30.1 percent in 2019.
Yet in 2020 the figure fell to 28.9 percent, the lowest it has been since 2017.
Some 12.6 percent of people now say they expect things to get worse for them over the next five years, compared to 12 percent in 2019.
Negative expectations increased most in the regions of Tuscany (+4 percent), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (3.8 percent) and Piedmont (+3.1 percent). Meanwhile Molise bucked the trend, with just 9.3 percent of residents feeling pessimistic in 2020 compared to 13 percent in 2019.
- Overall, life satisfaction is up.
It may seem contradictory, but 44.5 percent of people in Italy aged 14 and up say they are satisfied with their lives, according to Istat. While still less than half the population, it’s an increase from 43.2 percent in 2019.
In part that’s because there are a series of long-term trends that mean life in Italy is gradually getting better in many ways, and which the pandemic has not reversed.
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Among other things, deaths from preventable diseases continue to fall; there are a few more women in positions of power in business and politics; burglaries are down and people’s sense of safety is up; and the number of young people in higher education keeps rising, albeit slowly.
But Istat suggests that the pandemic could actually have contributed to life satisfaction in various ways – by bringing families and neighbours closer, for example, or by encouraging people to be grateful for what they have.